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The Top Shelf

Recently, I’ve found myself in kind of a reading drought, which is not the best situation for someone who’s committed herself to writing a blog about reading. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that really knocked my socks off. I’d even settle for a book that kept me awake past my bedtime. But unfortunately, the last several books I’ve started have gone nowhere.

During a recent library trip, I took out three audiobooks, and I had to turn off each one partway through the first CD. They were: Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian (couldn’t stomach the reader), The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell (couldn’t connect to the shallow teenage girl culture), and a completely forgettable book called Some Like it Haute (just ugh). I’ve also tried reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (couldn’t make myself care about the two main characters- see my previous post, The Turn Off) and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (yes, I know I’m supposed to like this book, and I haven’t completely given up on it yet. I just have to read it slowly, because I can’t take too much Faulkner in one sitting). To be honest, the best things I’ve read lately have been short stories from my creative writing class, and as wonderful as those are as a snack, I’m really craving a book to feast on.

So in the absence of any new reading and blogging material, I decided to do what I’m always telling my students to do: get back to the basics. For me, the basics are my favorite authors, particularly the ones I’ve been reading since I was a pre-teen, the ones who inspired me to keep reading, and eventually to start writing. The basics are also the books I keep physical copies of on my bookshelf. As I’ve said, I’m big fan of the library and used bookstores, and now of the Kindle, so I’m pretty selective with the books I actually pay full price for. Once on my shelves, I treat them respectfully, shelving them by category and then alphabetically, making sure each one stands straight and tall, with no creased corners. I keep my favorite books on the shelves in my office, the ones for show on the shelf in the living room (beautifully crafted by my father-in-law) and the old textbooks and studies on the shelf in the finished basement. (Yes, my house has three large bookshelves and a few small ones. And there’s still spillover).

But when I really, really want to go back to the basics, there’s no better place to look than the Top Shelf.

The Top Shelf is reserved for the books that are closest to my heart. They are the ones that I would save in a fire, if I had time to save books. They are the ones that I want to preserve for eternity, to read and pass along to my children and grandchildren. Of all the books I read and love, they are my longest-term relationships.

Many of these will not surprise you, because I’ve blogged about them before, and of course, the authors are on my favorites list.

1. The complete Harry Potter series, all in hardcover, except Sorcerer’s Stone, which was given to me by my friend Lisa, demanding that I read it (I guess I owe her a big thank you). Prisoner of Azkaban has a rip in the cover, because that was the only copy left in the store the afternoon I just had to buy it at Stop and Shop, right after I’d finished Chamber of Secrets. Order of the Phoenix is a bit mangled from being disrespectfully shoved into my too-small apartment mail box by my postman. I retrieved it after coming home from a friend’s wedding. I stood in the parking lot at midnight, trying to pry my book free so I could go upstairs and read until dawn. I eventually had to cut the Amazon packaging away from the book with a knife before I could liberate it. But all of these battle scars are priceless, because they show my love for Harry and J.K. Rowling.

2. All of the Agatha Christie books I own, with And Then There Were None on top and Murder on the Orient Express right underneath.

3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m actually surprised right now that those are on the top shelf. Add them to Harry Potter and it looks like I’m kind of a sci-fi/ fantasy geek, but in reality, I read those genres very rarely. I do treasure The Lord of the Rings, though, because- well, who doesn’t?

4. I used to have all of my books by L.M. Montgomery, including the entire Anne of Green Gables series and all of her collections of short stories. But alas, I ran out of room on the top shelf, and since my priority was keeping the collection together, I moved the whole lot to a lower level.

5. All of my Jane Austen books.

6. This one my surprise you: an American history textbook from the 1860s. I found it in a large used bookstore up in Northern New York. The view of American history from that time period is incredibly racist and narrow-minded, but I’m proud to own it as a true artifact of the culture and politics of an earlier time.

So which book will I take from my top shelf, you ask? Which book shall I choose to renew my reading pleasure? I’ve decided on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It lays everything out on the table for my reading pleasure: a strong and spunky heroine; a handsome, not-so-dashing hero; insane family dynamics; scandals; comedy; beautiful landscapes; English mannerisms. It’s really the perfect book. If you haven’t ever read Pride and Prejudice, you need to. Whatever your gender, character or reading preference, you will find something to enjoy in it; it has something for everyone. But keep your hands off my copy. It belongs on my top shelf.

One Response to “The Top Shelf”

  1. Laura J says:

    I’ve recently fallen in love with the author Lorna Landvik. I’m not sure if I mentioned her to you or not, but she writes characters beautifully. I think some may call it “Pastoral Fiction”, but I ate all her books up in just a few months. I enjoyed them all immensely, except for her Christmas themed “Tis the Season” which I finished, but found a bit odd–a very different writing style from her. I’m looking forward to reading them all again in a year or two.

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